SciTechBlog
May 12, 2010

Geek Out!: Mark Pellegrino on Jacob and the end of 'Lost'

Posted: 02:11 PM ET
'Lost's' Mark Pellegrino
'Lost's' Mark Pellegrino

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this interview if you haven't seen Tuesday night's episode of "Lost!"

After Tuesday night's episode of "Lost," fans are still debating what it all means. One character we definitely know a lot more about is the enigmatic Jacob, who was revealed to be the twin brother, and then the murderer, of his nemesis, the Man in Black.

CNN's "Geek Out!" caught up with Mark Pellegrino, the actor who has played Jacob since the end of last season, just prior to this week's episode.

CNN: Had you seen much of "Lost" before playing this role?
Mark Pellegrino: No, none at all. I didn’t really own a TV. What TV I had was passed down to me from my mom, and I would sometimes catch up on movies. When I got married a couple of years ago, I got a TV and still didn’t really have time with family and work to get into the TV thing. I’ve been trying to slowly catch up since then. My wife has had time to watch all five seasons, so she’s ahead of me on that.

How did people respond when it was revealed that you would be playing this iconic character, Jacob?
Pellegrino: Their response was pretty enormous. People had a love affair with Jacob for three seasons. One of my friends is a huge, enormous “Lost” fan –– so when Jacob shows up on the beach it was, “Oh my God it’s Mark Pellegrino! My friend Mark Pellegrino!” For everyone else, it’s been a lot of fun.

At what point did you learn you were playing Jacob? What did producers tell you about him at first?
Pellegrino: At first I was auditioning for a guy named Jason, and reading with a character named Samuel. We were doing a scene with a guy like the Man in Black. When I got it, I thought it was a simple guest-star, recurring part. My wife had some thoughts that I might be this mysterious character named Jacob. Every so often Jack [Bender, executive producer] would say, "It's Jesus the carpenter, man amongst the people," and I thought I must be a religious figure. In spite of my calm outward appearance, other things would come along and make me think, am I a bad guy? They kept me on a need-to-know basis.

CNN: What was your take on him at first and has it evolved?
Pellegrino: In spite of not knowing things I found out, it didn’t change the essentials at all, which I don’t know if it was luck or by design. I think the simpler, the better was kind of the idea for me.

CNN: Did you have any idea after your character’s death that you might come back?
Pellegrino: I had an inkling and I hoped... my wife said, "You’ve gotta come back!" I knew because I’d seen enough "Lost" to know that death didn’t mean you were gone forever. As an actor, if it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, it doesn't.

CNN: Have you had any memorable encounters with fans?
Pellegrino: I do another show called 'Supernatural' [playing Lucifer] – those fans call me "Mark from 'Supernatural.'" When I get it for "Lost," it’s "Jacob!" They’re very nice and just want autographs and to get a picture.

CNN: Do you get along particularly well with certain cast members?
Pellegrino: Nestor and I talked a lot, we happen to go to the same theater company, we were taught by the same guy so we had a lot to talk about and share. I would talk with Jorge a lot about Indian food because he’s a great fan of Indian food. He would introduce me to some island food that was amazing. I met the whole cast on my last day shooting and met everybody, and we listened to some great music. The Richard episode ["Ab Aeterno"] was one of my favorites to film, it’s so, so good. I loved acting with Jorge, he always made me laugh. He would always do something very genuine and funny. I liked acting with him on pretty much everything.

CNN: From what you know of the final episodes, do you think it will be satisfying for most fans?
Pellegrino: From what I’ve heard of the finale, it sounds very interesting. Satisfaction depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re interested in puzzles and solving problems and lots of questions, you may be satisfied.

How do you want "Lost" to end? Post a video on iReport and let us know!

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May 4, 2010

Geek Out!: The real Dharma Initiative?

Posted: 02:40 PM ET
The Dharma Initiative booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2008
The Dharma Initiative booth at San Diego Comic-Con 2008

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

The Dharma Initiative. Red herring or consequential? Once one of the biggest mysteries of "Lost," much of what it was about was revealed in season five.

A short refresher course: Dharma (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) was founded in the 1970s by a couple of scientists named the DeGroots, who were greatly influenced by the work of psychologist and inventor B.F. Skinner. They were given funding by one Alvar Hanso, which allowed them to send a large team to the island to conduct research in meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism and Utopian social engineering.

A major reason why we know all of this is thanks to the orientation films hosted by Dr. Pierre Chang, a.k.a. Marvin Candle, a.k.a. Mark Wickmund, a.k.a. Edgar Halliwax. So what did Francois Chau, the actor who played Chang, think of all of this? "This stuff is way over my head. Astrophysics is not something I would read about," he said. "But what they were researching is pretty interesting. I never would have known any of this stuff if I hadn’t gotten involved."

Much of their research does exist in the real world, leading one to another question: Are there organizations from history that may have inspired the idea of the Dharma Initiative?

Ask many who have pondered that question, and one answer you often hear (aside from Skinner, obviously) is DARPA. DARPA - the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency - is often credited with creating the internet and has researched and developed some pretty advanced stuff, especially in the area of robotics. DARPA even sounds like "Dharma," but as tempting as it is to draw conclusions about the two, the similarities start and end there (for one thing, Dharma is a private organization).

One person who has thought about this quite a bit is blogger Klint "Klintron" Finley, who has written about the concept of "real-life Dharma initiatives" extensively at Hatch23.com. "I think it stems from various trends and movements from the '60s and '70s," he said. "More specifically, anywhere that two or more of the following intersected: Eastern spirituality, fringe science, defense spending, disturbing psychological research, experiments in utopian/communal living and experiments social control."

He points to many possible influences for the Dharma concept but thinks there is one in particular that shares a lot with Dharma: the Esalen Institute. Made famous in a 1967 New York Times article, the institute began as a place where one could, as its website says, have "the intellectual freedom to consider systems of thought and feeling that lie beyond the current constraints of mainstream academia."

It still serves as a retreat center at the beautiful Big Sur mountains to this day and, according to the website, has been devoted to the exploration of human potential since the 1960s. It's here that the "Physics Consciousness Research Group" was allegedly co-founded in 1975 by theoretical physicist Jack Sarfatti. Sarfatti is the author of such works as "Progress in Post-Quantum Physics and Unified Field Theory" and "Super Cosmos: Through Studies Through the Stars."

And what about Dharma's benefactor, Hanso? Aside from maybe Richard Alpert and Charles Widmore, no one character has fascinated and mystified fans more. ... In fact, much of the online "Lost Experience" a few years ago revolved around him. (According to Finley, Hanso may have been modeled after people like inventor Charles F. Kettering, who died in 1958.) In ABC's game "The Lost Experience," players found out that a main reason for his interest in the Dharma Initiative was the "Valenzetti Equation." In "Lost" lore, this is a calculation of the exact date on which humankind would wipe itself out, consisting of the familiar "numbers" from the hatch, Hurley's lottery ticket and, we now know, Jacob's candidates. Dharma was trying to change these numbers in order to save the world.

The closest thing to such an equation in the real world would appear to be the doomsday argument, which theoretically would calculate the probability that a certain number of humans could still be born in the future. Similarly, there is the Doomsday Clock, which symbolizes how close we supposedly are to the end of the world, whether due to nuclear war or, more recently, global warming or possibly harmful technological factors.

Leaving aside the reasons behind Dharma and their areas of study, it turns out that Dharma's method of having a closed-off area for research is quite common, according to Georgia Tech associate professor of electromagnetics Gregory Durgin: "There is a longstanding tradition of placing research groups in secluded places together, providing the members resources, privacy and freedom to develop important technologies. One of the earliest and most famous examples of this is the Manhattan Project, where an entire community of scientists was established in the New Mexico desert for developing the atom bomb."

Durgin says that such arrangements are necessary in certain cases. "Any researcher will tell you that, when a new frontier of knowledge opens up, some degree of seclusion and freedom are required to study the emerging field," he said. "Without some 'hedge of protection,' technical people get roped increasingly into the mundane maintenance of an organization. ... Thus, today's corporate research labs foster an 'island culture' of freedom (complete with the same hippie themes of the Dharma Initiative) without having to ship out their technical personnel to the South Pacific."

A modern example of an "island culture" that comes to mind for him is that mysterious, shadowy organization known as ... Google. "They have game rooms, pools, cafeterias with exotic foods and eclectic décor, all in the hopes of providing a unique culture of innovation for their personnel" at the "Googleplex" near San Jose, California. "It’s the 'do no evil' approach to managing researchers."

Close to reality or not, some of the most hardcore fans focused in on the Dharma Initiative over the years as a major part of unraveling the mysteries of "Lost." Clearly, the "incident" (or lack thereof, depending on how you look at it) caused a lot of what we're seeing take place in this final season. But what further role, if any, does it play in the war between Widmore and the Man in Black? That remains to be seen.

How do you think the show's last few episodes will play out? Share your theory (keep it brief!) on CNN iReport. In the meantime, share your thoughts on Dharma, or anything else "Lost"-related below, and look for another "Geek Out!" post on one of our favorite shows next Tuesday.

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April 30, 2010

Geek Out!: Five picks for Free Comic Book Day

Posted: 03:29 PM ET
Iron Man and Thor, part of Free Comic Book Day
Iron Man and Thor, part of Free Comic Book Day

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Tomorrow is a magical day at your local comic book shop. You can walk into the store, load up on some comic books and walk out without paying ... completely legally!

That's right, it's Free Comic Book Day, and many comic book publishers are offering very special issues of some of their hottest titles for fans to enjoy without paying a dime.

This event has taken place since 2002, after retailer Joe Field was inspired by Baskin Robbins' "Free Scoop" night. For an ailing industry, it seemed like just the ticket: If it works for ice cream, why not?

Every year, many comic book stores make Free Comic Book Day a big deal, and with so many major and independent publishers out there, there's a lot to choose from. There's literally something for everyone, from Archie and the Simpsons to a sampling of comics from small publisher Oni Press to a comic book about Lady Gaga. Here are a few suggested titles to check out:

– War of the Supermen #0 is the beginning of what is promised to be one of the biggest Superman events ever, the culmination of a years-long story arc, involving the arrival of 100,000 super-powered Kryptonians living on Earth. The idea behind these free comics is usually to make them accessible to new readers, so if they can pull this off, that will be quite the feat. Younger readers might want to check out the DC Kids Mega Sampler instead. (DC is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN.)

– This year, Seth Rogen will star as the Green Hornet in a major motion picture. However, this is hardly the first time Hollywood has tried to bring the Hornet to the big screen. At one point, writer/director Kevin Smith had a script for a big-budget treatment of the classic radio character before dropping out, reportedly due to getting cold feet about such a big undertaking. As Smith told EW.com, he was approached to try a new take on the Hornet and ended up putting his script to the comic page. The Green Hornet #1 is the first part of that effort, and having read it, I can say it's definitely an intriguing story so far, about a Hornet for a new generation.

– For G.I. Joe fans, it doesn't get much better than Larry Hama's treatment of the characters, which started in 1982 for Marvel Comics. After Joe fever died down, the series ended with the 155th issue (now highly sought-after by collectors). G.I. Joe #155 1/2 is Hama's attempt to continue that story after the G.I. Joe team has shut down and Cobra runs rampant. Should be very interesting reading.

– And now for one of the classics. If you watched the Fox Saturday morning lineup back in the 1990s, you should be very familiar with the Tick. You may have even seen the short-lived, critically acclaimed prime-time series in 2001. Now readers can see where it all began with a special reprint of The Tick #1, especially for Free Comic Book Day. Spoon!

– Invariably, Free Comic Book Day is timed to coincide with a major comic book-based motion picture release. This time, it's "Iron Man 2." Marvel has a possible sneak preview of the upcoming "Avengers" movie with Iron Man/Thor, as the two heroes team up for a special free story, promising a "bold new direction" for both characters. Younger readers are encouraged to read old Shellhead's adventures in Iron Man: Supernova.

Like I said, there's more where that came from, but that should get you started. Happy reading!

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April 20, 2010

'Geek Out!:' Technology and the supernatural on 'Lost' island

Posted: 02:17 PM ET
Miles can hear dead people
Miles can hear dead people

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

When "Lost" began, Charlie, after encountering just a few of the many strange things about the island where the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 crash-landed, asked one of the series' central questions: "Where are we?"

Now, with just a few episodes to go, we're a lot closer to figuring out the answer and getting explanations for some of the bizarre occurrences on the island.

So let's talk bizarre occurrences. "Lost" characters experience walking, talking dead people in a few different ways - they can see them, feel their presence, hear them in a flurry of whispers and sometimes have long conversations with them.

At this point, we know that a lot of that can be attributed to the Smoke Monster, or the Man in Black... but not all of it.

One character often visited by friends who are no longer living is Hurley. Whether on or off the island, deceased people from his past visit and usually have very strong opinions on what he should do next.

Then there's Miles, who in a flashback from Season Four, was seen working as a medium for hire, exorcising spirits or getting them in touch with dead loved ones. He even uses a strange vacuum-like device at one point, though his abilities have more to do with getting information from dead bodies.

How do these portrayals of ghosts compare to the beliefs of those with interest in the supernatural - and who are using high-tech means to try to prove (or disprove) its existence?

"Lost" fan Dan Bernstein of Roswell, Georgia Paranormal Investigations (a "family member" of The Atlantic Paranormal Society or TAPS, made famous by the TV series "Ghost Hunters"), said the two are different kinds of mediums: "Hurley has what would be described as having a 'clairvoyance' ability – which allows him to see and communicate directly with the spirit as if they were there with him."

As for Miles, he has a "clairsentience" ability, according to Bernstein, meaning he can sense them, instead of communicate with them directly.

"You often see him touching something belonging to or close to the body of the deceased and he then senses their last thoughts before death."

Their cases would certainly be seen as out of the ordinary to the real-world paranormal investigations community. Bernstein says that most people don't have such abilities.

He does maintain, though, that ghosts can be observed as sounds, disembodied voices or, on rare occasions, as full-body apparitions or "shadow people."

Paranormal investigators often use electromagnetic field (EMF) detectors to look for evidence of ghosts.

"With EMFs, the thought is that in order for paranormal activity to occur, the entity needs to draw energy in order to manifest itself," said Bernstein.

He said sensors are normalized in an area and that their readings spike when there's paranormal activity.

Skeptics say there is no evidence that such instruments can be used to detect supernatural phenomena.

Bernstein's response: "Our team never relies solely on EMF readings as evidence of the paranormal," instead taking other occurences into account as well.

Electromagnetic phenomena should be very familiar to fans of “Lost.” The island’s special electromagnetic qualities are the main reason for the Dharma Initiative that Charles Widmore and others are so interested in it.

In the scientific community, however, real studies of electromagnetism are not fraught with peril, danger and mystery as portrayed on the show.

Gregory Durgin, an associate professor at the School of Electrical Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech, researches electromagnetism, often using an electromagnetic spectrum analyzer to chart activity.

"It has a lot of interesting applications: is the area safe for people to be in? Every company that has an electronic device has to look at that," he said.

"Lost's" island has extremely high levels of electromagnetism, which must be contained - the Dharma Initiative worked tirelessly to do so when they were there performing experiments.

When it was unleashed, the magnetism was so strong it caused a plane to crash.

How dangerous can electromagnetism actually be?

“The government regulations are pretty conservative... some frequencies are more dangerous than others," said Durgin. "You would be a lot more concerned about a watt of ultraviolet light coming down on you than a watt of radio frequency… once you surpass those exposure limits you still need some pretty prolonged exposure to get into a danger zone."

What about when unusually high levels are found somewhere? Is this seen as something unexplained - supernatural or otherwise?

“Usually when you see a lot of electromagnetic strength, you’ve gotta find out what piece of equipment is causing it and fix what is causing it. If it’s more of a mysterious source, you have to grab your equipment and drive around and ferret out that source," he said.

He said the "unexplained" sources often end up being unlicensed radiators used for pirate radio stations and the like. Then, the FCC gets contacted instead of, say, entering a set of numbers into a computer every 108 minutes.

As for electromagnetism behaving the way it does on "Lost?" "Magnetism in nature has a diverse and complicated physics, but there is always one universal property that we observe: it’s extremely weak," Durgin said.

He does, however, hold out the possibility of the existence of "magnetic charges," a purely hypothetical particle in physics: "If magnetic charges existed, many of the island phenomena would be plausible."

So why is electromagnetism portrayed in such a way on "Lost" and other movies and TV shows? According to Durgin, “If people can't see it in their mind it takes on a more mysterious or dangerous quality."

Whether you choose to believe or not, it certainly seems that “Lost” executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have done their homework when it comes to modern day thought about the paranormal.

As for scientific studies into electromagnetism, however, a lot of what we see on the show still exists only in the realm of theory.

Join us every Tuesday as “Geek Out!” dwells on the geekiest aspects of one of our favorite television shows. In the meantime, we invite you to sound off on ghosts and the supernatural on “Lost” in the comments below, and share your wish list for the series finale on video.

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April 16, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Kick-Ass' cast plays 'Kiss, marry, kill'

Posted: 11:51 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Whenever iReporters ask questions of celebrities, expect the unexpected.

So, when the opportunity came to share a video question for the cast of the long-awaited (by fanboys and girls, anyway) "Kick-Ass," out in theatres today, based on the graphic novel of the same name, iReporters Eric Jarrard, Heather Moose and Stefanie Fontanez laid down a challenge: "Kiss, marry or kill."

Stars Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse accepted the challenge before them. See their answers, plus their career advice for other actors, on the video above. (Also, check out what iReporters had to say about the movie here and here.

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April 14, 2010

Geek Out!: Joss Whedon to direct 'Avengers'

Posted: 08:36 AM ET
Writer/director Joss Whedon
Writer/director Joss Whedon

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly" and "Dollhouse," not to mention one of the biggest geek icons in Hollywood, has been tapped to direct the "Avengers" movie, Variety reports. Commence dance of joy in 5, 4, 3...

But seriously, this is probably one of the smartest moves Marvel Studios has made in its short history - yes, even smarter than hiring Jon Favreau to direct "Iron Man."

"The Avengers," for the uninitiated, is Marvel Comics' supergroup of heroes, in this case consisting of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk. In short, it is potentially the Marvel Comics superhero movie to end all Marvel Comics superhero movies.

Robert Downey, Jr. will, of course, play Iron Man, along with Chris Evans, recently signed to play Captain America in the movie of the same name. Chris Hemsworth will take on the role of Thor, after his own movie in 2011. (One big question mark is whether Ed Norton, who reportedly refused to promote 2008's "The Incredible Hulk" due to a dispute with producers, will return as the Hulk.)

One need look no further than the t-shirts that say "Joss Whedon is My Master Now" to see why this is a genius move by Marvel. The core fanbase will now be itching to see what Whedon does with "Avengers," especially after his well-received feature directorial debut for "Serenity" (box office receipts notwithstanding).

He can more or less do no wrong among his fanbase (myself included, though the early episodes of "Dollhouse," and a couple of seasons of "Buffy" and "Angel" left much to be desired).

What's left to determine? How closely will this movie adhere to some of Whedon's signatures: Will the Mighty Thor burst into song, a la "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog?" Will one or more major characters get killed out of nowhere in the last third of the movie?

Exactly how much of Amy Acker or Alan Tudyk will be in it (the correct answer is "as much as possible")?

Alright, Whedonites (and Whedon detractors): What do you think of this announcement? Are you as psyched as I am... and a little worried, since Whedon was supposed to direct "Wonder Woman" once upon a time? Sound off in the comments below!

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April 13, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Lost's' Hurley – An appreciation

Posted: 12:22 PM ET
Lost's Jorge Garcia
Lost's Jorge Garcia

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Dude. For a character who just appeared to be comic relief early on, Hugo "Hurley" Reyes (Jorge Garcia) has been a crucial part of "Lost" throughout its six-season run, as the "voice of the fans," and particularly in this season, taking on something of a leadership role. When you think about it, Hurley has really been the linchpin that has held the show together.

The guy who considered himself cursed after winning the lottery (thanks to those ever-present "numbers" - more on that in a moment) considers himself the luckiest man alive, in the "flash-sideways" timeline. It looks like we'll find out more about that in tonight's new episode.

Last week, we caught up with Desmond, who has been a key character to "Lost's" mysteries since the second season, but in his own way, Hurley has been connected to many of the major plot points of the show. There are the aforementioned numbers, which we now know correspond to "candidates" to replace Jacob, one of which is Hurley himself. Whether or not we'll learn any more about whether those numbers are indeed "cursed" remains to be seen.

In both realities, Hugo owned a box company with his lottery winnings, a company which employed John Locke, one of the most important characters on the show. On the island, he met Ethan, and his decision to conduct a census led to the castaways' first discovery of the Others. He also fell in love with Libby, who helped Desmond get to the island, and whose death (along with Ana Lucia) at the hands of Michael was a turning point in the series.

Hurley's ability to see the dead (not related, it appears to be "Smokey's" ability to take on their form – or is it?) came into focus last season, as various dead castaways visited him off the island. Hurley's importance really came into focus as he was visited by the still-living Jacob and specifically told to go back to the island with his scroll (in the most needlessly-elaborate possible way, but that's a discussion for another day).

Then after Jacob died, Hurley became his messenger and took charge for a time while Jack, Sawyer and others seemed more confused than anything else by the events following "the incident."

The best part of Hurley's personality has been his willingness to ask the obvious questions most fans would ask. The most memorable example of this would be in the second season, when he started to become convinced that the island was just his dream, in a tour de force episode which explained why that once-popular theory was not the case.

More recently, I was overjoyed to see that Hurley voiced the well-known fan theory that the skeletons in the cave are two of the castaways. And I was even more pleased to see him finally be the one to ask Richard why he never ages (at long last)!

Whether building a golf course, driving around in an old Volkswagen van, or jumping into the ocean, Hurley knows how to find the fun. And he did what any geek fan would do when time traveling to the 1970s: write "The Empire Strikes Back" script from memory. (That's certainly what I would do.)

Finally, if there's one big "Lost" mystery which I hope will be explained, it's this one: what was the deal with that bird that said Hurley's name at the end of season two? Seriously, I gotta know.

It's clear that Hurley is important, and this week's episode should give us a better idea as to what his role will be in the big series finale. Meanwhile, Geek Out! and CNN iReport want your ideas for how "Lost" should end. Share your video telling us what should happen on the series finale (but keep it short, 30 seconds or less)! In the meantime, Do you share my appreciation for Hurley? If so, share your favorite Hurley moment in the comments below (and if not, who is your favorite “Lost” character and why)?

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March 25, 2010

Geek Out!: Happy Tolkien Reading Day!

Posted: 09:50 AM ET
The Fellowship Festival 2004
The Fellowship Festival 2004

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's Marquee and SciTech blogs

Every year since 2003, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic tales have gathered on March 25 for meetups at local libraries, schools, universities and elsewhere to celebrate the works of one of the original geek icons.

March 25 is the date that Sauron, the evil overlord, is overthrown in Tolkien's "Return of the King."

It all started when the Tolkien Society, a group dedicated to the "Lord of the Rings" author, were approached by a journalist who asked why there was no day of celebration for Tolkien to match the one for James Joyce.

Thus, Tolkien Reading Day was born.

Each year, there is a different theme for the day (this year it's "Tolkien's Seafarers"). Fans - encouraged to attend in costume, of course - read aloud some of their favorite sections for about ten minutes or less, and participate in "musical interludes." Some people even bring recordings of Tolkien himself giving a reading.

Since the final Oscar-winning film of the "Lord of the Rings" series was released, Tolkien Reading Day has been the main event to bring Tolkien fans back to basics.

One of the most popular forums at Tolkien fansite TheOneRing.net, is "The Reading Room."

Patricia Dawson, a senior staff member with the site, said that the original purpose of the site 11 years ago was to post the latest news about Peter Jackson's films (Jackson, and subsquently, Guillermo Del Toro, have a close relationship with the site). Since then, she said, the site, with its 4,500 message board members, has been even more "grounded in (Tolkien's) works and readings." The aforementioned "Reading Room" is a place for scholarly discussion.

Fans, young and old, flock to Tolkien Reading Day, according to Dawson. Some of them were fans long before the idea of having an online community first came about.

Young children, she said, "do some of the best readings I’ve ever seen." She has even heard of 24-hour reading marathons taking place.

To be sure, the long-awaited "Hobbit" movie is still a big topic among fans online. Del Toro keeps TheOneRing.net visitors aware of the latest developments, including recent "enquires from above" about releasing it in 3-D, in the aftermath of "Avatar."

Until "The Hobbit" hits theaters, however, fans will continue to pay tribute every year to the man who first wrote that book over 70 years ago.

If you stop by your local library today, you might just be get the opportunity to join them.

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March 23, 2010

Geek Out!: 'Human Torch' to play Captain America

Posted: 01:44 PM ET
Captain America?
Captain America?

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From scifi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

"Fantastic Four" star Chris Evans will play Captain America in not just one, but multiple movies, according toThe Hollywood Reporter. Evans played the Human Torch in the two recent "Four" movies.

As my fellow comic book geeks will know, Cap and Human Torch are two very different characters. Of all of the things wrong with the "Fantastic Four" movies (and oh, there were many), Evans' portrayal of Johnny Storm was aggressively annoying. On the other hand, the Torch is quite literally a self-involved "hot head," so I'm not sure if that performance was necessarily so far off the mark.

Captain America, on the other hand, is the very model of a stoic, noble super-soldier. Supporters of Evans taking the role point to his good work in other films and Cap doesn't appear to be a major acting challenge, per se. Of course, the script will likely be more of a determining factor in whether the movie is any good or not.

Something I would more take issue with is that Evans and some of the others who were rumored to be considered for the role -  like Mike Vogel, John Krasinski, and Channing Tatum (who was all wrong for "G.I. Joe's" Duke, but that's another story) - seem to lack the gravitas needed.

Captain America will next appear in "The Avengers" movie(s) and should be a leader/elder statesman (I mean, he did fight in World War II, frozen in ice or not). The folks behind this online movement to cast Jon Hamm seemed to have the right idea, but it appears that he was never given serious consideration.

What do you think of the decision to cast Evans? Do you think he can do Captain America justice? Share your reaction on video, or in the comments below.

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Filed under: Geek Out! • Movies • pop culture


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August 25, 2009

Celebrating Ramadan on the iPhone

Posted: 02:51 PM ET

The month-long Islamic observance of Ramadan began on August 21 this year, inspiring one iReporter and iPhone enthusiast to explore how technology and religion collide.

"I was in Morocco for a couple of weeks and people were talking about Ramadan (taking place) in summertime,” Antonio Lopez Herreros explained. Before long, he found an iPhone application called the iQuran, which allows users to read the Quran.

Herreros introduced the app to two of his friends in Morocco and captured them sharing their joy about the Ramadan season with each other, using their iPhones in a short film he calls “Ramadan is Coming (Where is my iPhone?).”

“The inspiration for ‘Ramadan is Coming’ was to join the joy of this religious month with the technology with maximum respect,” explained Herreros. “When you are happy, you want to share with your friends and family all the special moments. In this film they share special moments with the iPhone in their daily lives.”

This isn’t the first time that the iPhone has appeared in Herreros’ iReports. In July of last year, he excitedly covered the launch of the iPhone in his hometown of Madrid, Spain. He then introduced the smart phone to his grandmother and her best friend, created a short film based on their love for the device and posted it on iReport.com. In the film, the two are completely in awe as they discuss the latest iPhone applications.

Herreros composes original music for his films and they are all shot, of course, on his iPhone.

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Filed under: iPhone


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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